At the International Shipping Conference and Exhibition in Shanghai last week, China’s Shipbuilding Industry Corporation unveiled a model and technical specifications for a massive icebreaker with conventional propulsion. With a displacement of 26,000 tons and the ability to break through three-meter-thick ice at two knots continuously, the Class 2 Polar Vessel comes close to the latest Russian nuclear icebreakers “Arktika” in terms of size and icebreaking capability. China operates two icebreaker research vessels so far.
China had already announced plans to develop a nuclear-powered icebreaker when the country’s General Nuclear Power Group (CGN) submitted bids to design and build the new vessel in early 2019. At the time, experts suspected that a nuclear-powered icebreaker could serve as a technology test bed for further development of nuclear-powered propulsion systems in large-scale vessels such as aircraft carriers for the Chinese Navy.
The proposed icebreaker is a larger and more powerful vessel compared to China’s first homebuilt icebreaker Xue Long 2. Like its predecessor, it will have bi-directional icebreaking capabilities and target scientific operations as part of its focus. Facilities include hangars for two helicopters and accommodation for 180 crew and staff.
The vessel will use flexible fuel options, with both marine diesel and natural gas. The latter will have priority when used in environmentally sensitive areas.
China operates two medium-sized icebreakers to date. The first, “Xue Long 1” (Snow Dragon), was built in Ukraine in 1993 as an ice-class cargo vessel before being purchased and refitted by China as a polar research vessel in 1994. The country’s first home-built icebreaker, “Xue Long 2” was developed in 2012 with the assistance of Finnish engineering firm Aker Arctic. The vessel was built by Jiangnan Shipyard from December 2016 to summer 2019.
A decade of new icebreakers lies ahead
China is just one of several countries investing heavily in modernizing and expanding icebreaking capacity. Last week, Russia’s “Arktika,” the first in a series of at least five new nuclear-powered icebreakers, launched sea trials after more than six years of construction. In the U.S., the U.S. Coast Guard will build three heavy icebreakers over the next decade. The start of construction on the shipyard of VT Halter Marine on the Mississippi Gulf Coast is scheduled for 2021. The first delivery is scheduled for 2024.
Heiner Kubny, PolarJournal